A Baltimore police officer fatally shoots a man as the man is firing at a crowd, according to Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.
The Baltimore Police officer who fatally shot a man in East Baltimore on Monday night has previously shot and killed four other people in the past decade.
The officer was identified by sources and his attorney as Sgt. Joe Wiczulis, who was involved in shootings in 2010, 2013, and 2016, the latter of which involved 56 rounds being fired that killed a father and son.
In all five shootings, police said Wiczulis and other officers came upon a suspect who was carrying a gun. In the previous instances, prosecutors cleared him of criminal wrongdoing each time.
“He’s an outstanding officer who has been assigned to some of the most dangerous areas in Baltimore City, and every one of his shootings have been justified and have been reviewed extensively by the Baltimore city State’s Attorney’s Office,” said Michael Davey, an attorney who works with the police union. “He’s an active officer who gets involved in fighting crime, and these things happen.”
A relative of Etonne Tanzymore, 38, who was killed Monday, said he was running to safety with his relatives when he was shot. Through an attorney, they called for a federal investigation of the shooting as well as Wiczulis’ past shootings.
“Something’s not right here,” said the attorney, Ivan Bates.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said officers were called at 6 p.m. Monday to North Chester Street in the Broadway East neighborhood by an alert from the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system and encountered an armed man who "at that time, we believe, had been firing that weapon in this block,” Harrison said.
“This all stems from an argument that turned bad when one person was shot," Harrison said at a brief news conference at the East Baltimore scene hours after the shooting. “The subject who has expired was running down the street firing at that group who we believe shot that [initial] black male subject."
Bates said he represents a relative of the two victims who says she was watching from an upstairs window. She told Bates the man who was hurt in the initial shooting, and the man killed by police, are cousins and were trying to get away from the other group when the officer opened fire.
“From what I’m understanding, the police see people running, hear shots and they just start shooting. But they shoot at the person running in the house," Bates said. Tanzymore was shielding the relative’s 16-year-old daughter from gunfire when he was shot in the vestibule, the woman told Bates.
Another witness who is not a relative and who spoke to The Sun on Monday night at the scene said she saw a man run up to the initial victim to tend to him when two police officers arrived.
“He just panicked and started running,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used due to safety concerns. She said officers chased the man from the street to the doorway of a nearby rowhome and said a female was in the doorway as well.
Davey said Tuesday that two other officers also fired, after Harrison said Monday only one officer had discharged a weapon.
Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said Tuesday the department is investigating how many officers fired Monday night as well as the circumstances. She said investigators were looking at shell casings from two shootings.
Reached Tuesday, Wiczulis declined to comment.
Wiczulis’ most recent prior shooting occurred nearly four years ago to the day, on March 31, 2016. Wiczulis and Officer Norman Jones were in plainclothes with another officer in the 400 block of E. Lanvale St. when they saw Matthew V. Wood, 43, and Kimani Johnson, 18, drive into the block near a playground, and emerge from a vehicle holding weapons, police said.
Police said at the time that they believed the men were poised to shoot a group of people across the street. After the flurry of gunfire, police determined Wood and Johnson had not fired any shots.
Then-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis hailed the officers at the time for confronting the men and said they prevented a shooting, while Johnson’s mother decried the officers, saying, "They wouldn’t shoot a stray dog 56 times. They shot my son as if he meant nothing.”
One officer present for the shooting did not fire. He told investigators that Wood opened the driver’s side door and emerged with the rifle in his lap, documents show. “You all wanna talk s---?” Wood said to a group of three people before raising the rifle, Officer Reginald Jones told investigators.
Jones said he yelled “gun!” and said Wood turned toward Officer Norman Jones. Reginald Jones took cover. He said Wiczulis fired and he saw Johnson go down.
The State’s Attorney’s Office concluded "there is no legal basis to charge these officers, who appear to have prevented even further violence on the streets of Baltimore.”
The 2013 shooting involved disgraced Gun Trace Task Force Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and then-partner Matthew Ryckman. Jenkins is serving 25 years in federal prison for robbing citizens and dealing drugs for years. Ryckman has not been charged with a crime but told the FBI that he had also taken part in stealing money and lying in official paperwork, according to federal prosecutors.
Records from the case show Ryckman got a tip that someone was going to rob a Burger King restaurant. Jenkins gave chase through Latrobe Homes, caught the man, and put him into a bear hug.
Wiczulis was among several officers who responded, and some of those officers told the investigators the man “displayed a .22 caliber handgun,” records show. Jenkins released the man from the bear hug, and Wiczulis and Officers Peter Iacovo and Kyle Gaskin opened fire.
A top-ranking police official said at the time that he was “proud of the work done by the officers” and that the man, Donte Bennett, was violent.
Then-Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at the time that surveillance cameras had captured the incident, but the summary investigative report does not mention any footage being recovered.
One witness told The Sun at the time that Bennett got stuck trying to jump a fence and tried to surrender. She said he "died with his hands still up.”
In the 2010 incident, two city officers were shot. Wiczulis and two other plainclothes officers, Jordan Moore and Keith Romans, stopped a Chevrolet Caprice in the 2600 block of McElderry St. Police said at the time that the officers smelled marijuana, ordered the three occupants out and began to search the car.
A police spokesman said the driver, Thomas Tavon Miller, broke free, jumped back into the car, grabbed a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun and opened fire on the officers. Moore and Romans were injured. All three officers returned fire, police said.
The officers were given department awards for the 2010 shooting. Romans was given the Medal of Honor, the department’s highest honor. Moore received a citation of valor and a silver star, and Wiczulis received a silver star.
Breaking News Alerts Newsletter
As it happens
Get updates on the coronavirus pandemic and other news as it happens with our free breaking news email alerts.
Wiczulis is currently a defendant with Gun Trace Task Force Detective Daniel Hersl in a lawsuit brought by four people related to a 2015 incident. They say they were attending a cookout in the 2100 block of Aiken Street when Hersl, Wiczulis and a third officer, Donald Hayes, arrested them, “falsely alleging that the Plaintiffs were all involved in [controlled dangerous substance] and Firearms related crimes.”
Bates, the attorney, said Wiczulis’ “history at the very least shows that this system of police for the Baltimore Police Department investigating officer-involved shootings and then giving those findings to the city State’s Attorney’s Office is flawed and needs to be revamped."
Police union president Mike Mancuso, meanwhile, said the officer was doing his job.
“These bad guys made bad choices, and the sergeant and others involved were there to keep these criminals from preying on citizens they are sworn to protect,” Mancuso said. “Just imagine where this city would be without members like this sergeant who are willing to engage bad guys with guns. You think violence is bad now? Discourage these officers to engage and the streets will know and violence will soar.”
Asked if an officer-involved in so many shootings should return to the streets, even for their own well-being, Mancuso said: “Every officer deals with these things differently. We have a very good health and wellness unit.”